Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Entry 72: Oh Joy, Sex Toy

Today we’re talking about Oh Joy, Sex Toy, which you can probably guess is Not Safe For Work. I’m putting the body of this post below a cut. If you’re interested in learning more about an awesome comic that has so many things to teach us about sex, click through and read on! If you’re a minor or a prude (or a prudish minor) then feel free to come back in two weeks, when I’ll have a post up about a comic that’s safe for everywhere.

Sex occupies a bizarre place in our culture. People at large are simultaneously obsessed with sex and reluctant to speak about it openly to others. As a result, we wind up with wildly inconsistent knowledge bases. Take two different adults, and the Things They Know About Sex may overlap not at all. Further, there’s a lot of misinformation out there… certain “common knowledge” about sex is totally inaccurate!

What’s needed is an open, well-researched educational resource. Something that can open the world of sexual knowledge up for the general public. Something that is fun to read, because people need to stay engaged long enough to glean all this important, possibly lifechanging, information.

Oh Joy, Sex Toy is that resource.

The comic’s introduction makes it sound like it’s primarily focused on reviewing sex toys (and all sorts of other sexy products), but that’s only the surface level of the comic. Plenty of installments are reviews, but plenty more are outright educational resources, covering everything from how to navigate consent* to how to give oral sex to someone, whether they have a vulva or a penis. Anything to do with sexuality and sexual health is on the table. Hell, even the sex toy reviews serve as education, informing the audience about what kind of sex toys are out there and what it’s like to use them.

*(While we’re here… I have a huge problem with including “enthusiasm” in the definition of consent. Enthusiastic consent is great! But I think there needs to be room for someone to say “I’m hesitant and unsure whether I’ll enjoy this but I really think it’s something I want to do” and have other people accept their consent, rather than judging them to be Not Enthusiastic Enough.)

I was lucky enough to have a decent sex ed program in school. They taught us about reproduction, contraception, and means to prevent STI transmission. Sex education is wildly inconsistent across the US, and from what I’ve heard, a lot of people don’t get nearly as much information as I did. And even with the valuable education I did receive, there’s a lot that I wish they’d covered that they didn’t. Hell, I remember getting into an argument with my sixth grade teacher when I asked a question about eggs traveling through the Fallopian tubes and she clearly did not understand what I was asking at all.

As for how to give and receive pleasure… well, that wasn’t even covered.

Oh Joy, Sex Toy covers all sorts of information, from basic mechanics to the importance of communicating with one’s partner(s). It’s a fantastic resource, whether your knowledge about sex is very limited or whether it’s extensive. There’s something here for everyone.

It even corrects some oft-misunderstood ideas about how pregnancy happens (man I wish that sixth grade teacher of mine could have read this!).

(Now if only you could get people to stop representing the duration of pregnancy as starting at conception. When someone says they’re six weeks pregnant, it is not six weeks from the moment they had sex to become pregnant. It’s six weeks from the last period they had before pregnancy. People get this wrong in fiction all the time… even when the writers are parents! I don’t get it.)

The information is wonderfully extensive and accurate, but as a reader, that’s secondary to the presentation. Oh Joy, Sex Toy is tons of fun to read. The tone is casual and playful, so that even though I’m discussing it as an educational resource, it’s much less like a lecture from a professor than like a conversation with a worldly friend.

There are more Star Trek references in Oh Joy, Sex Toy than any other sex ed resource you’ll ever find. Now, I don’t particularly like Star Trek, despite having seen an awful lot of it, but even if you don’t care for or recognize anything from Star Trek, these references reinforce that fun, engaging tone. Pop culture references don’t show up just to be momentarily funny throwaway gags. Rather, they fit naturally into the comic, just as a casual Star Trek reference might show up in the middle of a conversation. Oh Joy, Sex Toy doesn’t exist in a cultural vacuum, but authentically represents the way people discuss things in real life.

One problem I have occasionally is that Oh Joy, Sex Toy seems to assume that the reader already possesses a certain level of knowledge about whatever aspect of sexuality is being examined. Mostly this happens in earlier installments. Over time I think it gets more accessible, and does a good job of starting at the basics, so that anyone of any level of familiarity can follow along. I can still have that problem with some guest artists, who presumably don’t have the level of experience writing about sex for the benefit of strangers that Oh Joy, Sex Toy’s creator has accumulated.

Speaking of guest artists, though, they are for the most part a wonderful contribution to this comic. Usually I don’t include guest strips in my thoughts when I’m writing about comics, but in the case of Oh Joy, Sex Toy, the comic really couldn’t be as effective without them. Even the most knowledgeable and worldly of sex educators can’t possibly have learned and experienced everything there is to know about sex. And that’s where guest artists come in.

Whether describing certain kinks, relating experiences with particular kinds of birth control, or describing sexual accommodations that one can only find in specific parts of the world, guest Oh Joy, Sex Toy comics provide a level of knowledge and insight that can only come by pooling the collective knowledge of a wide variety of people.

That’s one of the ways that Oh Joy, Sex Toy consistently celebrates diversity. Another is in the choices to present an array of different people in the comic. The figures who illustrate the comic’s text, “Masturbateers” as they are called, come in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, gender presentations, and levels of physical disability. In every installment, it’s easy to see the message that no matter what a person looks like, the world of sexuality is open to them.

Oh Joy, Sex Toy is written and drawn by Erika Moen, with writing and research assistance from her husband Matthew Nolan. It updates on Tuesdays, and I highly recommend reading all of it, even the parts that you might think just don’t apply to you. Not only is this stuff fascinating, it’s a lot of fun, and I’m in favor of everyone expanding their knowledge and understanding of sexuality beyond what might seem obvious.

I think a lot of us (certainly me, but probably others as well) get trapped in our own ignorance when it comes to sex. It’s hard to find appropriate places to ask questions about this subject. In certain crowds, it seems embarrassing to express a desire to know more. In other crowds, it seems embarrassing to admit that one doesn’t already know the answer to the question one is asking. Oh Joy, Sex Toy won’t judge you for not knowing things, nor will it be scandalized that you want to know things. It’s a comic. It cannot judge you either way.


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